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Darfur: Displacement slows but returns remain difficult

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Despite some recent voluntary returns among those displaced in Sudan’s Darfur region, lack of security, services and sustainable livelihoods in return areas have become major impediments to returns, the top United Nations peacekeeping official told the Security Council Wednesday.

“Thus far, the humanitarian indicators illustrate a continuing emergency situation,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefing the Security Council.

Across the region, there are some 2.7 million displaced persons, of whom 2.1 million are in need of assistance, and 1.6 million living in a range of camps and settlements.

In his briefing, Mr. Lacroix also informed the 15-member Council that without major incidents overall, the disarmament campaign in the region has been received with mixed reactions and scepticism, especially by the internally displaced persons, while local authorities and tribal leaders consider that it has increased the security among the communities.

In that context, the African Union UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is engaging the authorities on reported concerns over non-respect for the rule of law and violations of human rights associated with the campaign, while monitoring its conduct in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“In the meantime, progress towards achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict remains elusive,” added the UN peacekeeping chief.

Mr. Lacroix went on to inform the Security Council that the first phase UNAMID reconfiguration had finished and 11 team sites had been closed and handed over to the Darfur state governments.

He also updated them on the Mission’s ongoing work on state-specific stabilization plans in cooperation with the Darfur state governments and the UN country team.

Concluding his briefing, Mr. Lacroix urged the Security Council to consider a new mission concept with adjusted priorities in the context of the renewal of UNAMID mandate in June.

He also called for prioritizing the consolidation of peacebuilding efforts in Darfur in order to safeguard the achievements and to avoid a relapse into conflict.

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Development

Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children

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A girl student in Basra, Iraq, who benefits from a UNICEF/WFP education stipend programme. UNICEF

Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.

These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children. 

The World Bank Group’s new report, Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path, builds on key priorities in education recently identified in the Government of Iraq’s White Paper and the World Bank Group’s Addressing the Human Capital Crisis: A Public Expenditure Review for Human Development Sectors in Iraq report, and provides actionable reform recommendations to boost learning and skills.

Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up. 

At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning. 

Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.  

The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:  

1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.

2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.

3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.

4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.

5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.

6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.

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Development

More Funding for Business and Trade to Help Lao PDR Recover from Pandemic

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The World Bank and the Government of Lao PDR have agreed to scale up a Competitiveness and Trade Project that will improve the ability of businesses to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19 as part of the government’s emergency response to the pandemic. The additional financing will provide a US$6.5 million grant through the Lao Competitiveness and Trade Multi-Donor Trust Fund supported by Australia, Ireland, and the United States.

The extra funding follows a request by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for additional resources to help the government and private sector respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and related restrictions. The Lao economy, which had already been slowing since 2018 following floods, drought and crop disease outbreaks, has been hit badly by the pandemic since early 2020, causing poverty to rise by an estimated 4.4 percentage points.

This additional financing complements the government’s approach of providing rapid and direct relief to vulnerable firms and to adjusting government services to the effects of COVID-19. Helping viable businesses to survive and grow will help them maintain and create jobs, thereby driving economic recovery.

The ministry has been implementing the original Lao PDR Competitiveness and Trade Project since late 2018 with $13 million of credit and grants from the World Bank and the trust fund. The project works to improve the processes required to start and operate a business, and to reduce the costs of doing business in Laos. Measures to lower trade costs and facilitate trade flows include streamlining regulations to reduce the time that goods spend at borders. Business Assistance Facility grants are available to help companies improve their competitiveness, while the project also supports improved policy making and transparency, along with stronger public-private policy dialogue.

According to H.E. Somchith Inthamith, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, “the new financing will be used to scale up and extend activities under the original project, such as decreasing the time required for goods to clear customs, and increasing the ability of our producers to connect to markets. Additional resources will be used to help new Lao firms set up, and aid existing companies seeking grants to mitigate the impact of COVID-19”.

Mariam Sherman, Country Director for the World Bank in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, said that over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has faced significant economic stress, especially considering the effects of the crisis on important trade partners. “This project has been prepared with urgency”, she said. “It can help the Lao government accelerate policy changes and regulatory reforms that will improve the ease of doing business, facilitate trade, and support company competitiveness. Such reforms will help Lao firms weather shocks, increase their ability to do business on the ground, and provide access to international markets for necessary inputs and outputs”.

The Lao Competitiveness and Trade Multi-Donor Trust Fund is a continuing effort to improve the efficiency of development assistance for trade in the Lao PDR, by pooling resources from the World Bank, Australia, and Ireland for increased efficiency of implementation, reduced transactions costs and greater impact on-the-ground.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has committed over $125 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history. The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank is also providing $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

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Finance

Brands for change: mainstreaming the value of brands for a more sustainable world economy

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A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that gives a product, service or concept an identity and distinguishes it from others on the market.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the European Brand Institute (EBI), have held the 17th Brand Global Summit at the Vienna International Centre and online. The Summit explored the topic of “Brands for Change”, highlighting brands’ role as major game-changers in the context of post-pandemic economic development, as well as their largely untapped potential for boosting recovery while unleashing creativity and innovation.

The Summit brought together leading branding experts and high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, academia, and international organizations. They exchanged experiences on applying brand management as a multidimensional-impact tool for improving business performance and resilience in an increasingly digitalization-driven world economy, while accelerating industrial upgrading and sustainable development at the regional, national and international levels.

“The pandemic has brought the need to reconcile digitalization with economic recovery to the fore. To meet this challenge, it will be crucial to promote innovative development tools, enhance professional skills, and create an enabling environment that drives digital, inclusive and sustainable digital transformation. Branding can play a relevant role in this process, as it can provide inclusive and highly customized solutions, reinforce business resilience, and support post-pandemic recovery through more sustainable growth pathways,” noted LI Yong, Director General of UNIDO, welcoming the summit participants in his video address.

“Managing change, and being proactive in doing so, is a necessary prerequisite for quality improvements in the course of redefining the post-pandemic economy. Whether it will be characterized by greater sustainability and inclusiveness will largely depend on how economic actors move forward on their development pathways, to what extent they are ready to explore recovery solutions to “build back better” and embrace innovation that fosters the digital transformation,” said Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, Managing Director of UNIDO’s Directorate of Digitalization, Technology and Agribusiness. He highlighted the fact that branding has become indispensable as a driving force for change. Indeed, he said, brands hold significant potential to accelerate the shift to more innovation-intensive and intellectual value-added practices.

“Sustainable brands carried us through the crisis and will support further change. As intangible assets, brands have become more important to inclusive and sustainable development than ever. As digitalization continues to accelerate, the future will increasingly depend on strong and valuable brands. Despite their fundamental importance, the understanding of branding does differ widely among businesses, large and small. Investments in brands support economic recovery and resilience, create growth and secure prosperity for cities, regions and countries in the long run. There is a clear need to stimulate IP investment, support IP-based financing and give companies the tools to disseminate information about their IP, ensuring their emergence as a tradable asset class. EBI contributes to more transparency and works towards increasing confidence and certainty in Brand and IP valuations”, stated Gerhard Hrebicek, President of the European Brand Institute, in his opening remarks.

Against this backdrop, UNIDO and EBI are continuing coordinated efforts to promote branding initiatives as part of the joint “Branding for competitiveness and sustainable growth (B4C)” service module, blending strategic marketing, branding and digitalization to advance inclusive and sustainable industrial development. Embracing the influence of digital transformation on shaping intangibles-oriented development strategies, the B4C module provides a timely response in terms of facilitating a country-, region- or enterprise-level transition to a more robust and competitive digital presence underpinned by strategic brand management.

Most recently, UNIDO and EBI have embarked upon a number of new initiatives replicating and fine-tuning high-impact branding practices from their previous projects implemented across countries and industries. Specifically, these new initiatives include a global-level destination- and region-branding initiative in China, coupled with the innovative upgrading of the health industry value chains, with the main focus on enhancing linkages between the health industry and tourism; and a project in India, aimed at enhancing the bicycle production sector’s global competitiveness by applying innovation-intensive industrial design and branding.

To assist project beneficiaries in overcoming the pandemic’s devastating impact, UNIDO and EBI will further expand their branding project portfolio, including the organization of global fora, thereby facilitating a large-scale, public-private dialogue and governmental engagement to support structural and legal reforms and frameworks to make branding an easily accessible tool to constitute an integral part of a sustainable development initiative at any level.

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